Burr in the Saddle

Jul 23, 2019

Beth Guckenberger

I remember the day it all started: this sense that borders were mine for the crossing and children everywhere deserved permanency. It was supposed to be just a week, something to experience. I had no idea on this summer afternoon in 1996 that everything would shift to the point that I would never again live as I had before. 

Todd and I were on a missions’ trip with our local church, and we saw orphans hiding the hamburgers we brought for them under their mattresses. It was unthinkable. We stood in the doorframe of a preschool dorm room, mesmerized by what we were seeing and talking really fast to each other about what we could do to help. Surely if people knew how to get food to them, they would… 

We’ve since called that conversation our defining moment. I had no idea at the time—I wish it would’ve been painted across the sky: “Everything is about to change”—but that’s not how it works. I flew home the next day, we went back to work, I headed to the same grocery store, and I called my friends. There was a difference now, though; I have since described it like a burr in my saddle. Something had shifted in me, and I couldn’t quite get comfortable again in my old saddle.  The path I was on which had seemed fine just a week before, now in light of my recent experience, looked okay, but I didn’t want okay anymore. So, I moved around for about a year on that saddle, trying to get comfortable again, but there was the silly burr, always reminding me I had changed in the doorframe. 

A year later, we moved to Monterrey, Mexico.  God’s since used thousands of burrs in thousands of people to build what you see around you today. It’s a testimony to a community who listened when prompted, and stepped out in a reckless kind of faith. 

Ten years later, I was living in Mexico with a houseful of kids and we decided one weekend to go horseback riding. There was a long line of us, winding our way up a trail in the Mexican mountains. It felt like everyone else’s horse had settled, quietly submitting to the process of trail riding, but my horse was spirited and never seemed to relax into a rhythm. At first it was fun, but after about 30 minutes, I felt like I was going to be sick. 

“Hey,” I shouted up to our trail guide.

 “What do you think is going on with my horse? Is this operator error?” I joked, hoping to make light of the fact I couldn’t imagine another hour like this. She turned in her saddle to watch me for a minute, and could see the horse dance along, jumpy and unsteady. I raised my hands up in a shrug, as if to say, “See?”

She answered thoughtfully, “It looks like she has a little burr under her saddle. It must be rubbing her the wrong way. Her movements are a reaction to the little jolts of irritation.” She looked at her watch and then back to me. “But we’ve been out here for a while, and it should be fine soon. Burrs eventually get numb if we ignore them. Don’t worry, she’ll settle down.” 

Sure enough, whatever had been bothering her stopped, and she relaxed, spending the rest of the ride seeing nothing better than the rear end of the horse in front of her. I spent the rest of the ride reflecting on what happens when we ignore the burrs God puts under our saddles. Seems to me, eventually we just get numb, and everyone around us feels better when we’re settled and can be easily ridden. 

The staff and guests who come visit this year will study Biblical characters who reacted to the burrs God put under their metaphorical saddles and modeled a ‘reckless faith.’  We’ll watch how they shifted when God led them and stepped out without counting the cost. It’s the prayer we will all tell our stories of God’s prompting and the goodness that followed in small groups, and on bus rides, and in debriefings. 

There have been countless burrs in saddles that have followed this one—moments we couldn’t sit still watching vulnerable kids go uneducated, or couldn’t unsee the devastation after an earthquake in Haiti, or be comfortable knowing better care could be offered to special needs children in Mazatlán.  Ask questions of what you hear and read about Back2Back is doing, and I promise there’s a story of someone uncomfortable with the chaos they saw and wanting to bring God’s peace and presence in a tangible way. Listen and join in. What moves you? What makes you uncomfortable? Or motivated to action?   

Come share with us your burrs and how they’ve changed your trajectory, and we’ll share ours. Together, we’ll encourage one another to run towards the call God has for us all. 


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Did you know Beth has a new book out? While this new devotional book won’t be officially released until Fall 2019, you can get an advance copy of Reckless Faith: a 40-day journey to saying yes at back2back.org/40days. On that page, you’ll also find bonus material, such as a 40 day podcast where she dives deeper and tells stories you won’t hear anywhere else.

Beth is an author, speaker and mom. She and her husband, Todd, serve as Co-Executive Directors of Back2Back Ministries. Beth frequently travels and speaks at conferences drawing on her vast experiences with adoption, foster care, spiritual care, and non-profit leadership, serving and living internationally for over 15 years. Between biological, foster, and adopted children, Beth and Todd have raised ten children.

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